Writer: Sharon Byrne
Director: Nicola Samer
Reviewer: Amy Jane Smith
Sharon Byrne takes us back to 1980s Dublin in new play Gutted, where a fish factory floor becomes the stage for three women’s stories of one life-changing night.
Through alternating monologues, we experience the lives of Deirdre (Rose O’Loughlin), Dolores (Nancy Sullivan) and Breda (Lucia Mcanespie) – workers and women united in their battle for control in their lives – whether to leave the factory early for the “debs ball” or over their own bodies and futures.
Though the play’s structure may sound like conventional fringe theatre fare, the execution is both powerful and playful. While one story takes centre stage the other actors physically and vocally support, taking on roles even if only for one phrase – often a surprising moment of comedy.
Structurally the monologue format is a perfect fit for this particular play that speaks of what it was to live in 1980s Dublin as a woman. The writing is strong and embraces the nature of Irish storytelling with its warmth and energy. Each performance feels physically dynamic and emotionally complex – flitting between the comfort of storytelling and comedy, to more painful moments. It is this genuine feeling storytelling that gives greater weight to moments of vulnerability, such as a particularly powerful scene with Deirdre that will be hard to forget.
Playfulness also comes from the physical set, designed by Jo Kornstein. The factory’s fish crates transform into seats on a bus, a baby’s cradle and best of all – a row of toilet cubicles, with knickers round ankles beneath. Each set-up is initially amusing in its innovation but then very quickly believable and effective.
While most of the physical work is subtle and seamless, even in its low-fi nature, a fight scene feels like an exception to this. Crates are repeatedly thrown down alongside chaotic running, and it starts to feel a little clunky.
Running through the play is the idea of choice and judgement. The women know what people think, and seem to feel tainted by situations and presumptions beyond their control – whether about family background or becoming a mother themselves. In the telling of their stories the characters take back some control. Byrne shines a light on such misconceptions and prejudice via a really enjoyable evening in the company of these women.
As much as Gutted is very much rooted in the 1980s, with the soundtrack often present and referenced, it is also uncomfortably relevant today. Hearing of girls going to London for an abortion – or rather, not going as they can’t afford it – is a stark reminder of how in Ireland abortion is still only legal if the woman’s life is at risk.
Dublin-born and Kent based writer Sharon Byrne has produced her play with support from The Marlowe – the latest in a strong series of supported productions from the venue. This is a production that could have great success at Fringe Festivals and on tour – with a brilliant balance of humour and pathos, and a sensitive exploration of serious issues made accessible with warm characters and strong storytelling.
Runs until Saturday 25 February | Image: Contributed